Association for Behavior Analysis International

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31st Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2005

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #289
CE Offered: None

Why Superstition? An Historical, Conceptual, and Empirical Analysis

Monday, May 30, 2005
9:00 AM–9:50 AM
International South (2nd floor)
Area: EAB; Domain: Theory
CE Instructor: James S. MacDonall, Psy.D.
Chair: James S. MacDonall (Fordham University)
WILLIAM D. TIMBERLAKE (Indiana University)
William Timberlake received his BA from Pomona College and his PhD from University of Michigan with honors in Experimental Psychology. At Indiana since 1969, he co-founded and directed the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior and he served for many years on the Board of Fellows of the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions. His research has been supported by NSF, NIH, and NIDA, and he has published over 130 papers. He is a fellow of APS, APA, and AAAS. His training in operant conditioning came from interactions with Allison, Hearst, and Dinsmoor at Indiana, and sabbatical leaves spent at Harvard with Herrnstein, Skinner, DeVilliers, Mazur, Heyman, Vaughan, and Alexandra Logue, at San Diego with Fantino and Williams, and at Reed with Alan Neuringer. In 1982, he and Gary Lucas began work on superstition in pigeons to discover why Staddon’s group and Skinner reported such different results. In 1985, Timberlake and Lucas published a nine experiment paper that indicated a relation between superstitious behavior and the pigeon’s food-searching repertoire. Several further experiments testing this view were recently performed or recovered due to the efforts of Eduardo Fernandez. Dr. Timberlake also would like to acknowledge important discussions with Nancy Innis, who regrettably died last summer in China, but would have enjoyed the results.

In 1948 Dr. Skinner cleverly introduced the concept of superstitious operant conditioning to explain the results of presenting reward to a pigeon on a fixed-time, response-independent (Pavlovian) schedule. In this talk I will briefly explore: (1) Possible contributions of then recent developments in shaping-by-hand, and an increased focus on human behavior; (2) Why Skinner didn't extend the concept of superstition to account for other Pavlovian results; and (3) Whether superstitious causal inference or niche-related preorganization better accounts for the topography and timing of temporally conditioned behavior.




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